Let the Grammar Games begin!
With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics starting tomorrow, many teachers will be discussing the Olympic Games in class over the next two weeks. (For Olympics lesson and activity ideas, check out this post.) But what about the grammar? Does the Olympics take a singular or a plural verb? When do we capitalize words associated with the Games? What’s the best adjective form? When do we hyphenate words? Think of this article as your one-stop resource to all things grammatical when it comes to the Olympics, and let the Games begin!
Is the Olympics Singular or Plural?
the Olympics + singular verb
the Olympic Games + plural verb
I tackled this thorny topic two years ago during the 2012 Summer Olympics. The short answer is that the slight majority of people and publications refer to the Olympics as singular and the Olympic Games as plural. The idea is that the Olympics is one event or one thing (as another example, think of one huge, week-long concert like Woodstock where multiple bands are playing). However, the Games refer to the many separate sporting events.
Point out to your students that they may see the Olympics taking both a singular and a plural verb. Challenge your students to find examples of each, and ask them what they think. Be sure to check out the complete post and join the debate!
Capitalization of Olympic Words
Winter Olympics, Olympics, Olympic, Olympic Games, Games
1. The Olympics
The Olympics, being an event name, is always capitalized. Words associated with the actual name of the Olympics are also capitalized (Winter, Sochi, Games), but other related words are not (medal, podium, torch).
- Winter Olympics
- Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games
- Summer Olympics
- the 2014 Winter Games
- the Olympics
- Olympic podium
- Olympic torch
- Olympic flag
2. Country Names, Nationalities & Languages
Country names, nationalities, and languages are always capitalized.
- Canada, the USA, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Sweden, Kenya, etc.
- Russian, Norwegian, Chinese, Jamaican, South African, British, Venezuelan, etc.
- English, French, Hindi, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, German, etc.
3. Sports & Sporting Event Names
Sports/sporting event names are not usually capitalized. One exception is Nordic combined (because Nordic refers to the country/area).
- cross-country skiing (American spelling—other countries use cross country skiing)
- figure skating
- short track speed skating
- Nordic combined
Note that “the” is never capitalized in running text, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. Only capitalize “the” when it is the first word in a sentence.
- I’m going to watch the Olympics every day.
- He knows someone who will be competing in the 2014 Winter Games.
- The Winter Olympics takes place in Sochi this year.
Adjective Forms: Capitalization and Hyphenation
1. Adjective form = Olympic
2. Use a hyphen for multiple-word adjectives (e.g., a gold-medal winner)
The adjective form of the Olympics is Olympic. It is always capitalized. Adjective forms almost never take an -s ending in English. Also, when a multiple-word adjective precedes a noun, it usually takes a hyphen.
- the Olympic Games
- Olympic events
- a gold-medal winner
- an expert-level slope
Note: You may notice that we use Olympics before a noun in some places on our site. Why? When referring to a lesson, it is common to use the noun form instead of the adjective form. So we use Winter Olympics lesson and Olympics lesson plan. Another example is sports. You would naturally say our Sports lesson plan, not our Sport or Sporting lesson plan. Note that we would normally capitalize any word in this position, since it is the title of the lesson. If this is confusing, you could always reword it like this: a lesson plan on the Olympics or a lesson plan on sports, where you would clearly need the noun form and wouldn’t need to capitalize the topic for a regular word since it’s not the title.
For more grammar tips and activities on the Olympics, check out the Comparative Adjectives, Superlative Adjectives, and Superlative Games posts on our sister site, SproutEnglish.com. Also, be sure to visit ESL Winter Olympics Lesson Plans and Materials for links to ESL Library’s Olympics lesson, podcast, video activity, and flashcard set.